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Atos will be paid $29m over $1b UK Met Office supercomputer dispute

Settlement 'without admission of liability' followed court challenge to Microsoft mega-deal

The UK government agreed to pay Atos £24 million ($29 million) in an out-of-court settlement following a challenge to its decision to award an £854 million ($1 billion) Met Office supercomputer contract to Microsoft.

The the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Met Office entered into a settlement agreement with the French IT supplier and agreed to a joint payment of £24 million "without admission of liability," according to the department's annual report [PDF].

The central government department agreed to contribute £20.7 million ($25.13 million) to this settlement with the balance of £3.3 million ($4 million) being paid by the Met Office.

In June last year, The Register exclusively revealed the parties had settled out of court after Atos filed a legal challenge against the contract award to Microsoft, announced in February 2021. The supplier claimed BEIS and the Met Office had breached the government's obligations under the Public Contract Regulations 2015, which led to its unfair dismissal for being "non-compliant" with the technical requirements specified in the tender.

Court documents showed [PDF] Atos challenged the decision over requirements for the supply of two test supercomputers and a development supercomputer in addition to the main supercomputer system, where the test and development systems were to be "architecturally equivalent" to the main supercomputer.

BEIS and the Met Office said Atos's bid was non-compliant with the stated requirements and gave it a score of 0/5 in each of three categories on the basis that the proposed development supercomputer system was "not architecturally equivalent to the main supercomputer system." It was claimed to have used different processors.

Atos, for its part, claimed the government had made "manifest errors" in the evaluation of its tender. It also said the two bodies made the decision based on "undisclosed requirements" or that BEIS and the Met Office had "interpreted the requirement of architectural equivalence in a way which would not be transparent" to Atos. It was also alleged the government was "disproportionate" in ruling its bid non-compliant without seeking further clarification on the architectural equivalence of the Atos system.

The government denied liability, stating that the requirement of architectural equivalence was interpreted correctly, and the Atos tender was scored correctly because the proposed development supercomputer lacked the required architectural equivalence.

At the time, a BEIS spokesperson said the proceedings regarding supercomputer procurement have been resolved "with no admission of liability from any party."

"The agreement allows the Met Office to concentrate efforts on delivering the infrastructure necessary to keep the UK at the forefront of global weather and climate science leadership," they said.

Atos said: "We are pleased to have resolved this matter."

Speaking to the Financial Times, Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labour party, said the settlement was "yet another example of the [ruling] Conservatives failing to take care of public money. While families are counting every penny, the Tories are shelling out taxpayers' cash to pay for their own mistakes."

The government told the publication an "independent review" had found all procurement processes were followed and there were no failures associated with governance or lack of controls.

"The proceedings regarding supercomputer procurement have been resolved with no admission of liability from any party. This settlement is in the best interest of taxpayers," it said. ®

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